Rising Child Labor Crisis as Children as Young as 12 Join Workforce

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In alarming news, children from the tender age of 12 have become a part of the workforce, drawing deep concern from youth employment agencies. They suggest an impending “significant crisis” unless lifestyle norms change to prioritize education over earning.

On the other hand, truancy services deal with other spectrums of the problem, addressing issues of children as young as six being removed from formal learning environments. Gaeleen Wilkie, holding the helm of Taupō Pathways For Youth Employment, was taken aback when she encountered a parent seeking work opportunities for a 12-year-old child who had stopped going to school.

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“Children as young as 12 are far from equipped to join the workforce. What is the future of a child who jumps into work so prematurely?” questions Wilkie.

Over the past year, she has witnessed a significant surge in the number of families seeking assistance for their school-absent children, with queries even coming from parents of underage children seeking job opportunities. However, she admits not being able to help in such uncertain circumstances.

The law also doesn’t favor this trend, as students below the age of 16 are prohibited from dropping out of school during school hours. The statistics are equally disconcerting with 9,205 students not attending school consecutively for at least 20 days, and 9,980 children between the ages of 5 and 13 not being enrolled at all in 2022.

Leaving school before the age of 16, Wilkie points out, leaves students stuck in jobs that pay low and offer little scope for career growth. She notes how a lack of basic skills like mathematics often acts as a barrier for them to secure employment in most domains.

“The employment prospects for children under 16 are bleak indeed, limited severely by their age – especially in smaller towns,” explains Wilkie.

Moreover, their parent’s lack of value for education contributes to teens not attending school, thereby limiting their opportunities and growth potential.

Shirley Johnson from Youth Employment Aotearoa considers the issue a nationwide concern. “Unless we make school more accessible and relevant for our youth, we are headed for a crisis. Staying in school not only keeps children away from crime but also equips them with social, health and financial skills,” she opines.

Matters become worse when youngsters below 16 seek employment, often finding themselves in low-quality jobs where exploitation abounds. Brendon Crompton from the Blue Light organization attests to the problem. They had 4000 referrals last year – the majority of them being children aged 8 to 14.

The Ministry of Education cites a jaw-dropping increase of 96 per cent in non-enrolment notifications for 10-year-olds between 2018 and 2022, while 8-year-olds accounted for an 88 per cent surge.

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